Demonstrators demand justice, accountability after 'horrific' Tyre Nichols video: Updates
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Demonstrators outside a Memphis Police Department precinct demanded charges against an officer who's seen firing what appears to be a Taser in the video that shows five other officers fatally beating a Black man.
Protests and vigils were scheduled across the nation Sunday, two days after the release of footage showing members of the Memphis police mercilessly kicking and punching Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old father, skateboarder and FedEx worker.
The officer with the Taser appears to be white — the five charged with murder in Nichols' death are Black — and is heard saying, "I hope they stomp his ass." The small group protesting outside the police precinct called for his identity to be revealed.
"They are charging the black officers" activist Casio Montez said. "We want that white officer's name. We want him charged."
The Memphis protesters held moments of silence lasting three minutes, the amount of time Nichols was beaten during a Jan. 7 traffic stop. He died three days later.
"That was the longest three minutes of silence in my life" said activist Jennifer Cain, whose group organized the protest attended by about 30 demonstrators. "That's three minutes of beating. Three minutes of screaming and yelling for his mom."
Protests in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon, have been scattered and non-violent. In Milwaukee, Peace Action Wisconsin was among groups sponsoring a march from Red Arrow Park to a local police precinct.
"The body cam footage is horrific and unwatchable," the group says on its website. "We are demanding justice for Nichols and all victims of police violence. We are demanding accountability and transparency from the police."
Hundreds of protestors gathered in Oakland, California, on Sunday night to rally for the end of police brutality and march for Nichols. Numerous community members and advocates spoke during the rally, which was organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project.
"I still haven’t seen the video. All I needed to know was who was involved, and that was it," said Dieudonné Brou, a youth advocacy and program coordinator for Urban Peace Movement, during the protest. "It’s the same thing over and over and over. Then we sit in our homes, thinking to ourselves, 'Is this going to be our fate?'"
VIDEO SHOWS VIOLENT BEATING OF TYRE NICHOLS: He died three days later
►Other vigils and protests include events in New Haven, Connecticut; West Chester, Pennsylvania; Springfield, Missouri; Stockton, California; and Anchorage, Alaska.
►The University of Memphis resumed normal hours Sunday after shutting down "until further notice" in response to the release of the video.
►The funeral for Nichols will be held Wednesday at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis.
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'We can't sit this one out:' Mississippi church holds Sunday service
When the Rev. J. Lawrence Turner asked for anyone in his church Sunday morning who desired prayer to come forward or stand up, nearly the entire congregation at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church rose to their feet.
Turner's Sunday sermon honed in on the brutality Jesus faced from Roman soldiers and the brutality Nichols faced from Memphis officers, but it also looked forward.
"We can't sit this one out," Turner said. "We can't just be onlookers, we've got to get into the struggle, we've got to get into the fight. And what does that mean? That don't mean you take to the streets and tear up the city. That means we've got to have some brave conversations with those who are in leadership. You don't have to have hate in your heart to hold somebody accountable."
Turner challenged the congregation to call leadership, even if it means calling people across the aisle, and referenced the partisan deadlock that has stopped the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act from becoming law.
— Gina Butkovich, Memphis Commercial Appeal
What happened to Tyre Nichols?
Memphis police officers pulled over Nichols, 29, for suspected reckless driving on Jan. 7. The initial police report said only that a "confrontation" occurred, that Nichols fled on foot, and that another confrontation then occurred. The report said Nichols then complained of shortness of breath.
Nichols was hospitalized in critical condition that night. Three days later he died, having suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” according to an autopsy commissioned by his family. Federal investigators opened a civil rights investigation Jan. 18. The officers were fired Jan. 20 and charged with murder and other related crimes.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump applauded the Memphis police chief and county prosecutors for the quick response, calling their efforts a "blueprint going forward."
Video released of brutal beating
Video released from body-worn and utility pole cameras showed officers pepper-spraying, kicking, punching, and hitting Nichols while he was restrained, bashing him with a baton, and shooting him with a Taser. Nichols cried out for his mother and to be allowed to go to his nearby home. Finally, he lay propped up against the side of a police car motionless while officers milled around him. More than 20 minutes later, an ambulance arrived.
"This is not just a professional failing, this is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual," Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis said in a statement. She described the behavior of the officers as "heinous, reckless and inhumane."
5 officers charged with second-degree murder, free on bond
The five officers, all Black, charged in Nichols' death are members of SCORPION, or Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, the department confirmed. Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith each face charges of second-degree murder; aggravated assault, act in concert; two counts of aggravated kidnapping; two counts of official misconduct; and official oppression. All were released on bail ranging from $250,000 to $350,000. Arraignment was set for Feb. 17.
“No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” said William Massey, Martin’s attorney.
Memphis disbands SCORPION police unit
The 50-person SCORPION unit was established in 2021. Its goal was to reduce crime 5% by concentrating officers in areas with high crime, a saturation patrolling tactic used by other urban police forces. City and police officials praised the unit’s statistics for arrests and guns recovered. But Antonio Romanucci, lawyer for the Nichols family, said SCORPION and other specialized police units target the "most vulnerable" and should be disbanded.
"These are suppression units," he said. "And what they do is they wind up oppressing the people that we care about the most – our children, our young sons and daughters who are Black and brown."
The Rev. Al Sharpton argued that if the units were set up to combat egregious crimes, "why are you dealing with an alleged traffic violation in the first place?"
On Saturday, the unit was disbanded.
Two sheriff's deputies relieved of duties pending probe
Sheriff Floyd Bonner said he launched an internal investigation after watching the videotape to determine whether deputies violated his department's policies.
"I have concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols," Bonner said in a statement. "Both of these deputies have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of this administrative investigation.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Tyre Nichols updates: Vigils, protests, Scorpion police unit disbanded